Marching on Chevron

Pub date November 3, 2009
SectionGreen CitySectionNews & Opinion

GREEN CITY Although the 250-seat Roxie Theater auditorium was filled to capacity for the Nov. 1 screening of the controversial film “The Yes Men Fix the World,” the real action took place on the city’s streets when audience members took the film’s anticorporate message directly to an oil giant’s door.

Activists from Global Exchange co-organized the San Francisco film premiere to protest alleged human rights abuses and environmental devastation by Chevron Corporation, California’s largest corporation and the fifth largest in the world. The theatrical protest followed the film and ran from 16th Street to a Chevron station at Market and Castro streets.

Antonia Juhasz, director of Global Exchange’s Chevron Program, introduced the film, riling up the crowd when she said, “After viewing this film, we will be so inspired we won’t know what to do with ourselves. But we need to take this energy and direct it toward affecting change.”

The film chronicles the exploits of “Yes Men” Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, following the pair as they perform various publicity stunts in an attempt to illustrate the greed and corruption of the free-market system and draw attention to their progressive causes.

Currently being sued by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for recently staging a fake press conference on global warming, the duo have been called world-renowned troublemakers because of antics like announcing live on BBC that the Dow Chemical Company would finally clean up the site of the Bhopal, India, gas leak and compensate the victims.

Although the film does not directly reference Chevron, it aspires to hold corporations accountable for impacts to the communities they operate in. Juhasz said that although Chevron spends billions of dollars on advertising campaigns, it operates with blatant disregard for the environment.

Chevron spends less than 3 percent of its expenditures on alternative energy, operates a coal company, and is among the world’s largest corporate contributors to global warming, she said.

“We want to link communities in the struggle against this corporation, demanding policy changes and building pressure where Chevron operates,” Juhasz said. “By targeting one company, the whole industry is affected and eventually energy policies can be changed.”

The procession was led by protestors dressed as Chevron officials, cleaners, and absurd imaginary products. “Today we are demonstrating what Chevron is actually doing,” said Rae Abileah, grassroots coordinator for CodePink, the antiwar group that participated in the event. “We are just showing what a mockery this all is and that we can rise up as people to transform our world.”

As “I Will Survive” blared from speakers, the procession had a party-like atmosphere that attracted bystanders. Larry Bogad, an associate professor at UC Davis, came up with the concept and told us that “by using surprise, humor, imagination, and protest to engage people, we can stimulate thought and draw a deeper and wider attention to the issue.”

For David Solnit, organizer with the Mobilization for Climate Justice, the unusual nature of the event was exactly what made it so effective. “We are taking a popular film that deals with corporate power and trying to break down the barrier between consuming media and taking action,” he said.

Bichlbaum, one of the film’s stars, attended the protest and spoke about the importance of the grassroots movement. “If I can do it, anyone can … You need your feet and a bunch of friends. That is much more important than a business card.”

Juhasz said the destination for the procession was a symbolic choice. “This is an independently-owned Chevron station. The target is not the station, but a theatrical event to draw attention to the issue in the spirit of theater and fun.”

Although he didn’t attend the event, the station’s owner, David Sahagun, told the Guardian: “Employees told me that the crowd was well behaved and did a good job making their point.” As former president of the San Francisco Small Business Network, he stressed the struggles of locally-owned businesses in the face of large corporations and said he was “trying to be a community partner”

Chevron officials did not return calls seeking comment.